Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Idealism does not a good leader make: or why I can not vote for Obama

When I was a new teacher starting out I was full of piss and vinegar wanting to change the educational system as we know it. I promoted myself as an agent of change, promoted change as the ultimate goal of the educational process, and too umbrage at those who told me it could not be done: I often misquoted Robert Kennedy (since the quote really belongs to George Bernard Shaw) "Some see things as they are and say why? I see things as they could be and say why not?" My stance was often volatile "Hey sometimes you need to throw out the baby with the bathwater and start over." My arguments were saturated with comments that suggested people were too set in their ways, that things needed to be fixed, that the old guard of education had let us down and it was time to put new principles into action. Change=Better and it was time for a better educational process for our children. I was filled with idealism; still am. But then came the day of reckoning: during an interview for a high school English position I was asked HOW I was an 'agent of change' by the old guard without a hint of hiding their sarcasm. My answers were filled with beautiful, professional best practices rhetoric: but the more I spoke on this the more their eyes narrowed and their arrogant heads bobbled in negative disbelief. Affronted I found myself trying to explain this behavior: this disregard for the truths which lay evident, aye dormant but evident nonetheless when it comes to the best practices of educational discourse. The more I thought of their position and the coinciding arguments that went with their negativity the more I realized that my arguments were not grounded. My arguments were beautifully prepared rhetoric filled with idealism and vigor but they lacked the HOW of substance. I still dislike the old guard and am nowhere closer to understanding their positions but I am rational about how they felt about my lack of HOW substance in my own idealist ventures.

Yes I believe good ideas will brew and formulate and attract others like a conglomerate stone soup of ideals we all keep adding our flavor to, soon developing a stew rich and brimming of nutritional effective practices. This is the beauty of being an idealist. I get to come up with ideas and mix them around add a pinch of wry devil's advocate to the mixture and watch as the lump of clay takes form and shape and then perhaps even a life of its own. Idealists make good poets, writers, teachers spiritual leaders and such but they do not make good CEOs where a practical affirming sense of HOW is mandated. Good CEOs will always have a court poet to keep them entertained and to provoke them to think in creative and critical arenas but good CEOs also know that they need to put ideas into play and pragmatism is the necessary ingredient. I think of my own stone soup analogy where idealists toss in their ideas but there needed to be the pragmatic sense of water first or no stewing ideas could even be thrown into the mix. Without the pragmatism of water we stand around tossing about ideals like empty peanut shells hoping that peanuts will grow.

This year I keep hearing great rhetoric: the rhetoric -- nay the hope of change and the essence of these ideals smell good but good smells will not put sustenance into our bellies. Yes, we want CEOs to be well versed in the mix but we also rely on them to make the difficult decisions of HOW, because in the HOW someone is always left out, good ideas are tossed away for the practicality of the decisions. As the CEO of a country our president needs to have this ability: to be pragmatic. An idealist president is good in theory but when substance is needed I think it pertinent we have a president who can provide the HOW of sustenance as opposed to good rhetoric.

One of my favorite cartoons is the S. Harris one you have probably seen also:   Two white-coated scientists are working frantically on an incredibly complex equation that fills several blackboards in both directions in a large room.  In the middle of the equation, where there seems to be a gap in the figures, one scientist has written, "And then a miracle happens." I want an idealist president yes, but I want one who is a pragmatic. When asked HOW we will be given solid procedures and not a lot of "hoping for a miracle."

Idealism is for poets, spiritual leaders and inspirational advisers not for leaders of countries.